Rhode Island High School Student Sues School Over Christian Prayer Banner
The Rhode Island ACLU is suing the city of Cranston and the School Committee on behalf of a student who believes a Christian prayer banner hanging in the auditorium of the public school violates the constitutional separation of church and state. According to the Providence Journal, the 10th grade student, Jessica Ahlquist, who is an atheist, objects to the banner on personal as well as constitutional grounds. She says the banner, which is more than 8 feet (2.4 meters) long and contains the Christian words “Our Heavenly Father” and “Amen”, makes her feel “excluded, ostracized and devalued” by her school.
The School Committee has dismissed the complaint, filed in the US District Court in Providence, calling it a “misguided attempt to rid public buildings of historic references to religion.” “We don’t want to erase our school’s history because one person in the history of the school objects,” said School Committee member Frank Lombardi. The banner has been on the wall of Cranston West’s auditorium since 1963.
Still, many high schools across America have changed their mascots because they were racist anachronisms of a bygone era. And, more importantly, Ahlquist has the Constitution on her side.
The sophomore atheist spoke at a press conference:
“The Christian- Catholic prayer may bring comfort to the majority of students in my school but it sends a different message to the large population of students of other faiths, or in my case, none. The prayer’s presence in the school promotes and endorses the ideals of Christianity and the concept of the single heavenly father. As not all students feel that this is true, and I am one of those students, I firmly believe that it should not be on display in a public school and is in direct violation of my and other students’ civil rights… The prayer does not belong in a public school and that is why I have come forward to challenge it.”
Rabbi Peter Stein of Temple Sinai agreed: “This is a moment to defend a clear separation between church and state,” he said at the press conference.
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